Mixed reaction for plan to revamp central Delhi
The iconic colonial architecture of Lutyens’ Delhi may soon give way to state-of-the-art modern buildings after the Union government decided to redevelop Parliament House, central secretariat and the central vista, which spans from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the India Gate. But the move has attracted mixed response from historians, urban designers and planners.
Urban development experts say redevelopment is the way forward but add that government should have a strategic vision for the area, which has a lot of historical significance, so new and old constructions blend smoothly.
Urban designers say the government should have consulted the public before taking a decision. Arunava Dasgupta from the School of Planning and Architecture said, “For any project of this scale, magnitude and significance in a location as critical as this area... the heart of our national capital, there needs to be a widespread consultation before any decision to change is taken.”
He added, “It is most important to formulate a comprehensive urban design, landscape and conservation strategy for this precinct and all other areas of historical significance within which such projects can be considered or imagined.”
The central vista, consisting of some of the most iconic buildings of Delhi, came into being when the British capital was shifted to Delhi from Calcutta in 1911. Architects Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker designed large sections of the area that houses central government offices.
“This area is the identity of the capital. It is the image on your mind when you think of New Delhi. If the government wants to interfere with this profile, they need to have a very good reason. They also need to involve heritage architects in planning it,” said Sohail Hashmi, a heritage enthusiast.
Others said that there was no cause for alarm if existing rules were followed. “We need to first see what changes will be planned and if there is something that will disturb the current look, then there will be objections from the Delhi Urban Art Commission,” an official from Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) said.
Hashmi and Dasgupta cited the examples of Paris and London where modern architecture was planned in such a way that it blended with the heritage look and feel of the area.
Dasgupta said, “The development visions for Trafalgar Square in London, the Champ de Elysees in Paris are examples of the way in which heritage and historicity have been balanced with aspirations of modernity and change through sensitive urban design frameworks to guide any transformation in areas of national significance.”
The housing and the urban affairs ministry has floated the Request for Proposal to appoint a consultant to prepare the design and plan for central vista area— an area of four sq.km. According to government officials, there is an urgent need to redevelop the area as a large number of buildings are old and lack space.
“Redevelopment is the way forward, but there is a need to do a carrying capacity assessment before planning any project. There is need to do a development impact assessment,” said R Srinivas, town and country planner, Town and Country Planning Organisation.
With the government setting July 2022 deadline for the Parliament building; March 2024 deadline for buildings in common central secretariat and November 2020 for upgradation of central vista, urban experts say that the government shouldn’t do the work in haste. Architect and urban designer Ashish Gupta said, “National Interest will be best served, if, instead of being driven by the target of completing the project before 2022, the focus of the bid shifts towards giving more attention to details and define the mechanism for taking the right decisions for creating our modern heritage.”